LAS VEGAS — Whether you're playing a cinematic single-player adventure or a life-and-death multiplayer match, nothing can take you out of the game faster than shoddy sound quality. Traditional gaming headsets channel audio through either a 3.5 millimeter jack or a USB cable, but either method can cause a loss of quality from the source. The Katana HD, a new peripheral from Mad Catz, sidesteps the issue entirely by channeling audio directly from an HDMI source — a first for a gaming headset.
I met with Mad Catz at CES 2016 and got to take the Katana HD ($250, shipping this spring) for a spin myself. At first, I thought that an HDMI headset would be a convoluted proposition, since an HDMI cable carries both audio and video. Splitting the feeds is not easy. However, the Katana HD neatly avoids this problem by simply going wireless.
Here's how it works: Take any system that works with an HDMI cable, whether it's a gaming PC, a PS4, an Xbox One, a Wii U or even a set-top box. Plug the system into a small white adapter box, then plug the box into your TV or monitor. The picture travels to the TV, but users can now tap into the sound wirelessly with the Katana HD. (There's an also a 3.5 mm jack, just in case your setup needs one, and a micro-USB port for charging the headset.)
The Katana HD itself is a large orange-and-white headset with over-the-ear cups and a removable, flexible boom mic called the Triton. When I put it on, the headset felt comfortable: extremely adjustable, and not too tight. As the Katana HD supports surround sound, I listened to a DTS test loop that accompanied a video of a thunderstorm.
Without a 3.5-mm headset against which to compare it, it's hard to say whether the HDMI connection made a huge difference. Taken on its own merits, however, the Katana HD sounded great. I heard thunderclaps with crystal clarity, and the loud, ominous music that accompanied it sounded bright and balanced.
My hands-on time with the Katana HD was fairly short, but if it sounds as good for games and movies as it does for tests, it will make me wonder why no one thought of making an HDMI headset before now. If the setup is as simple as it appears, the Katana HD could provide a novel — albeit expensive — way to hear games in a whole new way.